When The Avett Brothers’ The Carpenter came out in September of 2012, it did pretty well. Critics liked it for the most part, and the record hit no. 4 on the increasingly anemic Billboard album charts. The Avetts liked The Carpenter a whole lot, too—enough, as it turns out, to have written and recorded a whole other album during its Rick Rubin-led sessions. That record, the group’s eighth full-length, is Magpie And The Dandelion.
Though it’s not expressly billed as a collection of second-class songs, Magpie sure sounds like one. While the lead single, “Another Is Waiting,” is a bit of a romp, with a plucky banjo and staccato opening, the other ten tracks are a total snooze. Sticking to a similar, plodding tempo, each track blends into the next. While opener “Open Ended Life” starts things off a step or two quicker, adding a choogling harmonica, it’s still just pretty, lite rock. While Joe Kwon’s cello work has always been one of the highlights of Avett LPs, showing that the orchestral instrument could do more than just plod and fill, here, it drags the record down track by track.
Magpie includes not one but two songs (“Good To You,” “Apart From Me”) about life on the road, and whether the band will still have girlfriends or wives when they come home. The record also boasts at least one song, “Morning Song,” that almost perfectly apes a chord progression from the band’s breakthrough, “I And Love And You.” “Never Been Alive” is almost sharp with its minor chords, but borrows too heavily from some of Pink Floyd’s dullest moments. And though the Avetts’ lyrics have always been a bit flowery, things take an overly saccharine turn on tracks like Sunday sleeper “Bring Your Love To Me,” which asks a loved one to “bring your love to me and I will hold it like a dandelion.”
Perhaps most confusing is the inclusion of a live version of “Souls Like Wheels” right in the middle of Magpie’s second half. The nice acoustic number comes two tracks before the record’s finale and is marred with audible woos and girls screaming “We love you, Scott!” It’s so off-putting in the album’s sequence that it seems like the band basically forced the track onto the record, but couldn’t be bothered to go back to the studio to record it.
While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with sweet little songs, Magpie And The Dandelion finds the Avetts nearing dangerously innocuous territory. These songs are nice and they’re pretty, but have no bite, no substance, and no real pizzazz. The band should have sat with them a while, or even taken them out on the road before recording them. Maybe then the Brothers would have learned to let sleepy songs lie.